Funny thing. Call me an asshole and I may wince, but I usually take a perverse glee in having gotten under someone’s skin. Call me an environazi extremist elitist and I feel like I’ve done my job correctly. But an aimless, bored group of people with their thumbs up their asses who decide — without taking the time to, you know, look for a resume, or a biography, or a clue — that I haven’t accomplished enough in my life to impress them? That gets under my skin.
It’s ironic, in a sense, because I’ve a lifelong allergy to trumpeting my achievements. I do have some achievements of which I’m proud, but that pride is mine, dammit, and no one else’s. And the odd thing is, the gross physical and career accomplishments — the résumé items and the repeated scooping of the New York Times at EIJ and that kind of stuff — aren’t by any stretch of the imagination the things of which I’m proudest. The accomplishments that mean the most to me are the gains I’ve made in understanding the world around me, and the small degree to which I share some of those gains through my writing.
Just because the smug and ignorant in that thread don’t seem to have the capacity to understand that kind of achievement, it doesn’t make it any less an achievement. So why do Those Of The Implanted Thumbs penetrate the shields so much?
Part of it, of course, is the fact that like almost every other person I know who shared some of the special-snowflake educational experience I had, the “not living up to potential” is a Weapon of Morale Destruction. It’s the evil opposite of the Special Olympics: Nothing we did was ever good enough. It didn’t matter, in my case and to take one example, that I was 13, had received less than half an hour of homework guidance from my parents in my entire life, and that the subject I wasn’t doing well enough in was calculus. It’s an evil, emotionally abusive trope, because there is always a “better” that could conceivably be reached with only a little more superhuman effort, and what kid doesn’t want to please the local adults?
It doesn’t matter that these people can’t be bothered to do a little more investigation than reading a blog post or two before dismissing me, by full name in a site indexed by Google, as someone who hasn’t tried hard enough, or even worse as someone whose lack of achievement is sadly understandable given the traumas to which I was subjected. It doesn’t matter that these people have a conception of “gifted child” probably derived from the borderline-abusive wish fulfillment that they visit on their own hapless kids, mixed in with some dimly remembered scenes from Doogie Howser and Good Will Hunting, or else the obverse of that stereotype, driven mainly by resentment of their own perceived failure to measure up to the reviled straw-gifted. I know all this, and somehow it doesn’t matter. They hit the “Mom and Dad” button, they inadvertently parrot the most destructive things told me by one or two utterly unqualified teachers, and I reel.
I think the thing I resent most is the defensiveness they make me feel, the urge to wave the resume at them and say “see?” as if it’s any of their goddamn business, as if they’d be swayed even a little by accomplishments in fields they devalue. I tell myself what i should feel is pity for their kids, who face a best-case scenario of finding some measure of inner peace after some years of shutting their parents out of their lives completely.
I generalize, of course. I commit the same sin of which I accuse them, judging their entire lives based on something even smaller than a blog post. This is the thing: the medium does this to us. “Chris Clarke” ceases to be a living, breathing person with hot buttons, or with a need for employment over the next 30 or so years upon which their idle, uninformed, anonymous and Googlable speculation could conceivably infringe. We become screens on which people project their assumptions. We become television characters. I got email last year from people I knew only by internet pseudonym in which they told me all the reasons getting a divorce was a bad idea. I get off easy. People in the nastier world of political blogging get reduced all the way to cardboard cutouts. Amanda becomes a Monster Big Name Feminist Blogger, brownfemipower becomes a Convenient Stick To Hit Amanda With, and the wonderful, vibrant compassion and outrage and brilliance and inevitable beautiful or regrettable flaws each has are reduced to rhetorical strategies.
The people dissecting me in public in that thread are almost certainly, for the most part, kind, caring people who are trying to do their best in the world, for their families and for themselves, with some of them quite likely taking time to make the greater world a better place. I suspect that if they knew the effect their words had on the person they’re discussing, most of them would feel a pang of regret.
My job right now is to stop actively wishing that pang would hit them hard, and soon.